Stuck inside the border

Slovenia is a small country, so you are always near one border or another. Mostly, you can just drive through, but one day …

In Slovenia, there is always a border close by

In Slovenia, you are always near a border. The country is small, but what’s more, borders have shifted over what’s now Slovenia’s territory throughout time. Holiday goers drive through Slovenia because it is the fastest connection between central Europe and the sea. Did you know that this was known already in the Roman times? Countless wars have been fought over the Slovenian borders, and in many places, you can find traces of this violent past. There are border stones and various types of fortifications all over the country. For a while, the EU did its best to remove these borders. Lately, I am less sure about this. But today I would like to tell a lighter story, of how I managed to get stuck between a border one day …

In Search of Crayfish

Those days, a few years ago, I was surveying crayfish in the framework of the monitoring for the EU Habitats Directive. Crayfish live in mountain streams so, I drove around the country to see some of the most beautiful places on earth.  As even small Slovenia is a bit too big to survey effectively, friends had given me the task to check the streams in the lower and upper Primorska regions, close to Italy. 

Crayfish are very interesting creatures, especially when we have a chance to photograph them under water. 

At the end of one day … 

Once after a long day, I wanted to check one more stream before returning to the place where I would stay for the night. This particular stream had exceptionally steep and overgrown shores. I got to the water at some places, but I didn’t find any crayfish. I wasn’t too sure if I checked the stream well enough and decided to move upstream. As it was, the uppermost part of the stream was on the other side of the state border, in Italy. This was the EU, and I didn’t expect any particular problems, so I drove over the border. Here the vegetation was less dense and in a short time, I learned that there were no crayfish in this stream.

Two Border Offices

Satisfied with my findings, I drove back to Slovenia. However, this particular border is rather different from others. Usually, you have two offices, one on each side of the border. These offices are just a few meters away from each other, in plain view. This particular valley was narrow and steep. There are very few places where it is possible to construct a proper border office. Because of this, there was at least hundred meter between both offices. What’s more, the road was curving in such a way that it was not possible to see one border office when standing in front of the other.

At the Italian Side

When I arrived at the Italian side, I met a tired looking customs officer who was closing a pole and sealing it shut with a small rope and a silvery pin. I asked him kindly if I could still pass because I had a sleeping place nearby in Slovenia. He muttered something in Italian (which I don’t speak). With a sigh, he tore his newly made seal, opened the pole and let me through. I thanked him and drove onto the Slovenian side of the border.

At the Slovenian Side

At the Slovenian side of the border, I didn’t see any officer. In fact, the office itself looked desolate and was obviously out of use for years. There was, however, a strong steel pole over the road and this pole was automatically closed. It was also firmly locked. I looked around if there was some way to open it or maybe some number to contact in such a case. I only found a sign which stated that the border was closed from 19.00 h until morning.

Back to the Italian Side

So I got back in my car and made an awkward turn on the narrow road. On the Italian side, I found that the officer had left and had sealed the pole with a new flimsy rope and silvery pin. There was no telephone number to call here either, and in fact not even a telephone signal. I stood there for at least five minutes before driving once more to the Slovenian side. This didn’t help at all, I was all alone and locked up in a no man’s land between the Slovenian and Italian border …

It was getting cold and dark, and I had no other option than to drive back to the Italian border post and break the flimsy seal. I wrote a note with an explanation and my telephone number, which I put under the door of the office, realising that that particular officer might not understand much of my English. But what else could I do? I lifted the pole and drove around to the next border post, imagining all the way that I would soon be followed by border police. Why did I have to be so honest to leave my telephone number on that note?

It took me over two hours to reach the tourist farm that night. I never heard anything about my illegal half-border crossing back to Italy, to get back to Slovenia. A couple of weeks later Slovenia entered Schengen border system, and these border-crossings were officially suspended. This border crossing is now open day and night, but no one knows what the future will bring …

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